Scientists are ready to move an experimental treatment into phase 1 trials.

By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
June 20, 2017

Hello, readers—this is Sy.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. It kills more than 600,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That’s one in four U.S. deaths. And it’s a strikingly indiscriminate scourge, constituting the top cause of death for whites, African Americans, Hispanics, men, and women (for other major racial groups like Asian and Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, it takes a backseat only to cancer).

Curbing the tide of coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular conditions is no mean feat. These illnesses are largely influenced by a combination of genetics and lifestyle—two things which range from the “impossible” to the “extremely difficult” to change. But what if a vaccine could actually protect against one of the biggest contributors to heart disease, a.k.a high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol?

That’s the medical innovation that European scientists are ready to test in early clinical trials after promising results in a mouse study. “The research… shows that the AT04A vaccine, when injected under the skin in mice that have been fed fatty, Western-style food in order to induce high cholesterol and the development of atherosclerosis, reduced the total amount of cholesterol by 53%, shrank atherosclerotic damage to blood vessels by 64%, and reduced biological markers of blood vessel inflammation by 21-28%, compared to unvaccinated mice,” according to the research published in the European Heart Journal.

Those are some striking results. But mice are, well, different from men. So the next essential step is to conduct these experiments (beginning with safety trials) in humans. (It should be noted that the PCSK9 enzyme targeted in this particular study is also in the crosshairs of new drugs from Sanofi/Regeneron and Amgen which had already been approved by the FDA.) And it could take years to determine if a similar approach can actually lower the country’s astronomical heart disease rates.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Armed with an (old) new name, Nokia digital health offerings hit the market. Nokia snapped up Withings and its digital health platform in a deal meant to serve as an entryway into the consumer medical space. Today, that transformation entered its first stage as the Withings name dropped by the wayside and Nokia launched a trifecta of health products: an Internet-connected Body Mass Index scale, a blood pressure monitor, and a new app. The various Withings titles are morphing into more Nokia-centric names like “Nokia Body Plus” and “Nokia Body Cardio.” (Engadget)

Mindstrong Health raises $14 million for AI-fueled smartphone mental health platform. As we’ve previously reported, Mindstrong Health is attempting to build a mental health platform based on users’ interactions with their smartphones. That might mean observing differences in people’s typing patterns and app usage to glean potential insights about their moods. It may sound like a pretty out-there concept; but the company has attracted talent like Dr. Thomas Insel, the former director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and a project head over at Google life sciences arm Verily. And now it’s raised $14 million in a funding round led by Foresite Capital and ARCH Venture Partners. (pharmaphorum)


INDICATIONS

Novartis makes a play for the massive eye drug market. Swiss pharma giant Novartis has posted impressive results in one of the world’s most lucrative pharmaceutical markets: eye diseases. The company’s experimental RTH258 treatment for a type of age-related macular degeneration (i.e., worsening eyesight from aging) worked well with fewer injections as one of the leading therapies in the space—rival Regeneron’s Eylea, which may require a dosing every eight weeks as opposed to the Novartis product’s 12 weeks. (New York Times)

Massachusetts Gov. Baker wants $500 million for the life sciences. Boston, Kendall Square, Cambridge. These are some of the biggest names that come to mind when thinking of biotech hubs. And Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker wants to keep it that way—with an assist from a proposed $500 million investment in the life sciences resources which have catapulted the state to the top of the biopharma R&D totem pole. “We are committed to supporting the public-private partnerships and strategic investments that have made Massachusetts a global leader in the life sciences, research, development and medical advancements,” said Baker in a statement. “This proposal empowers the Commonwealth and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to continue … attracting world-class companies in innovation and technology, giving researchers the best available tools and educational environment, training our workforce and providing successful careers here in Massachusetts.” (Boston Herald)


THE BIG PICTURE

Science says you should stop paying attention to bait-y headlines about what science says. Here at Brainstorm Health, we like to emphasize good science. Unfortunately, some of the mainstream reporting around science is… not great. My colleague Laura Entis points out some of the absurdities surrounding breathless health study articles which seem to imply that just about everything—from certain diets to complaining to, yes, cats—can/will kill you. (Fortune)

Will the final Obamacare replacement pass President Trump’s “mean” test? Fortune‘s Shawn Tully has a column out exploring how emerging GOP health care legislation to supplant Obamacare may not live up to President Donald Trump’s stated wish that the bill not be “mean,” even if it does address certain financial realities of American health care. “Put simply, the AHCA is a good deal for the young, and blow to the elderly,” writes Shawn. “Trump may be right is seeking better balance between controlling future deficits, and ensuring that older folks can afford insurance. Both goals are laudable. The question is whether the Republicans can somehow forge a bill that’s a lot less “mean,” but also curbs what could be a runaway entitlement.” (Fortune)

The opioid epidemic is also a middle class problem. Stories surrounding the opioid epidemic often home in exclusively on the poor and rural Americans (for good reason). But a new analysis highlights how the crisis has also affected privately insured Americans (rather than those on government programs like Medicaid), who tend to be employed and better off financially than others suffering from addiction. (Fortune)


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